Bedazzled by the Jewel!
Cruise Review: Jewel Of The Seas, Five Day Cruise February 18, 2012
Despite one big hiccup, we again enjoyed a five day sailing out of Tampa to the Yucatan. We end up sailing this itinerary frequently because it fits with our budget and my work schedule.
Things started off wonderfully, with our air travel through Southwest. The two free bags and non-stop flights to and from Tampa made for easy and relatively inexpensive travel. With the mild winter we've been having in Buffalo, I wasn't too worried about weather being an issue, but you never know. There were no difficulties this time around, though the flight down was a little bumpy.
We arrived in Tampa, and awaited our shuttle to the Double Tree Westshore. We've stayed here before, and love the place. They have a large and well kept pool area with a Jacuzzi. They also have a small fitness center, which I did use for a half-hour elliptical session. Another feature of this hotel is their very nice, Italasian Restaurant. It is very affordable, dinner for two was only $50.00, and very good, I had the best Chicken Parmesan Sandwich I've ever tasted.
Now for the hiccup. I had seen a weather forecast earlier in the week that suggested the possibility of dense fog on Saturday morning. When we awoke, sure enough visibility was limited to, "across the street." I called Royal Caribbean to see if the ship would be delayed, and was told that it's entry to the port was delayed but they didn't know by how much. They told me to call back in a half-hour and they would have more information. When I called back, they said to come to the port at my usual time. We got a taxi and arrived at the port at 10:45, and there was still no ship! Usually the ships arrive by about 6:00am. We were given a sheet of paper that identified us as VIPs, due to our Crown and Anchor status, and told us to come back to the pier at 1:30. We strolled around downtown Tampa, visited the Aquarium, which was very nice, and stopped for lunch at a Tapas restaurant in a nearby shopping area. While eating lunch we met up with a family that we had been chatting with on the Cruise Critic website. At that point we were still hoping that our planned 3:00pm informal meet and mingle in the Schooner Bar might happen.
We returned to the pier at 1:40 to see the Jewel finally approaching the dock. We were allowed up to the registration area with a limited number of other people holding VIP papers. The indoor holding area could only accommodate 500 people, so once that area was full, everyone else had to wait outside. We were very fortunate. We were directed to a seat and waited for about two-and-a-half hours. During all of that time the passengers on the Jewel were also waiting to disembark. The time for our planned Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle came and went. At 3:30 we were invited to register and then put in another waiting area, while the passengers continued to disembark from the Jewel. At 5:30 they finally cleared the ship for boarding and we had strategically placed ourselves in position to be among the first to board. We were on the ship and up to our room at 5:45: seven hours, an afternoon by the pool, and a meal later than we usually accomplish boarding. Some people did not board the ship until as late as 9:00pm. Muster Drill was at 9:30 and we finally pulled way from the dock at 10:00.
Here are a few of my thoughts on this fog delay. 1. I knew three days before the cruise that fog might present a problem, how did the Captain of the Jewel miss this? On our return the Captain, a different Captain, was advised of a similar situation and sailed noticeably faster on the final day at sea, so that we could get into the port before the fog. We were already docked by 4:00am. If Captain Steig could do that, why couldn't the commander on the previous sailing? 2. I appreciate the $20 per person on board credit that was given to us for our inconvenience, but I lost out not only on one meal, but also on the use of the ship's facilities for seven hours. I'm not going to press them, but $20 does not compensate me for the lost time for which I had paid them. 3. They did not do a great job at controlling and accommodating the passengers as they arrived. Their plan was to allow VIPs (Loyalty Program Members, and Suite guests) to enter the waiting area, but many others were also allowed in. I spoke with several people who should have been allowed in but were not, because the waiting area was full of people who should not have been there. While this didn't affect me personally, I think the Port of Tampa and Royal Caribbean should have had better contingency plans in place for an occurrence like this. It was not a cruise breaker, we got over it and had a wonderful time, but it was not much fun sit around a wait for so long, and I know many others had to wait MUCH longer than I did.
From here things smoothed out considerably and the rest of the cruise was everything I had hoped it would be. Our room was tremendous. Although Diana is not using a wheel chair, we did book an Accessible Junior Suite, as she is continuing to recover from hip replacement surgery and the handholds and seat in the shower are still a big help to her. The room, JS 1028, exceeded my expectations. The large balcony with chairs, loungers and a table, and the room with ample storage space, two chairs and loveseat all helped to make us comfortable. The wood textures used for the cabinets and trim on the Radiance Class ships are warmer and darker than I've seen on most other Royal Ships. I liked it. Our Stateroom Attendant, Elizabeth, was also top notch. She quickly brought us extra pillows, kept the ice bucket full, and made up the room beautifully each day.
Our dining room service was also superior. Because of the fog delay, dinner on the first night was open seating, so we didn't get to meet our tablemates or waitstaff until the second night of the cruise. Still the food was good and the conversation enjoyable on the first night. We were able to dine the rest of the cruise at our assigned table. Sarah, our waitress, worked hard to bring our orders in a timely fashion and was always sweet, smiling, and sincere. Her service was prompt, the food was hot and always very good. I was taken aback when she broke into tears on the final night of the cruise...I had already given her her tip so I don't think she was trying to manipulate me...does she get that emotional on the last night of every sailing? I had heard many positive reviews of the Main Dining Room food on the Jewel, and it also exceeded my expectations. Whether it was Prime Rib, Lobster, Escargot, Duck, or Mahi Mahi Tempura, there were no complaints about the quality of the food. We had linked reservations with fellow Cruise Critic members Chris, Rick, and Ron, whom we had met on the CC Roll Call. So even though our planned meet and mingle was lost, we were still able to connect. They were a lot of fun; we got along so well, I expect that they will be added to the list of Cruise Critic Friends with whom we've stayed in contact long after the cruise. The next time life brings us through Chicago, we'll be sure to look them up.
We actually never dined in the Windjammer at all on this cruise other than to grab an afternoon snack, or sushi before the evening show. We had breakfast in the Diamond area of the MDR each morning, and took lunch in the MDR on Sea Days. I had the awesome Tutti Salad on the first sea day, and an incredible Steak Sandwich on the last sea day. On the port days we ate at the attractions we were visiting. At this point I should probably confess that I gained back seven of the fifteen pounds that I'd lost since New Year's Day. And that's despite making it to the excellent fitness center for half-hour elliptical sessions three early mornings. (That's a total of four days of workouts on this vacation!)
The Ports of Call were very familiar to us. Cozumel has so much to offer. This time we did the Dolphin Encounter, which is the easiest of the dolphin experiences that is offered. It was a blast. We were with a group of about fifteen people who walked down onto a metal grate platform so that we were about waist deep in the water. (I would strongly recommend wearing water shoes for this. I was barefoot, and it was pretty painful to stand on that platform.) Once in the water, the dolphins performed a number of jumps and swim bys. Then each person in the group had a chance to kiss a dolphin on the nose, hold its flippers as it rose out of the water, and have it come up further out of the water to touch your raised hand. It was an awesome experience. It was, however, very much driven by the VERY EXPENSIVE photo sales opportunities. Everything we did was photographed. We were then offered the photos for $30 a piece or the full package on a CD for $120. We were told ahead of time that no photography was permitted with the dolphins, but then at the last minute we were told that we could bring a waterproof camera with us, and that cameras were available in the gift shop for $22. Next time I'll bring the same waterproof camera from Walmart for $6. It is a beautiful facility with lots of fun things to do. I would recommend it. In Costa Maya we returned to Jungle Beach Break, which we had visited before. It has everything we want in that kind of excursion: free drinks, bright sun, sandy beach, palm trees, and a pleasant staff. It is also an excursion that I would recommend without hesitation.
The entertainment on the ship was just OK. The Cruise Director, Dennis, was capable and knew his job well, but it often seemed like he knew it a little too well. Almost everything he said sounded rehearsed and canned. Not that he wasn't energetic and entertaining, he just seemed very scripted. The opening night comedian was good, but the crowd wasn't really into it, as we had all just wasted a day sitting around waiting to get on the ship. So the energy wasn't really there. The two production shows were performed with excellence. The singers were powerful and the dancers were well choreographed and acrobatic. But the selection of music in the shows was random and obscure. "West End to Broadway" might have been called "A Collection of Songs You've Never Heard." "City of Dreams" was quite a bit better, and had a more lavish stage and costume production. We missed some of the other shows. We'd seen Los Pampas Gauchos several times before, and were just too tired to make it to see "Your Three Tenors."
The ship itself is in fantastic condition. I'm not one to notice little dings or carpet stains so it's possible I overlooked some minor issues. But of all the ships I've been on, the Jewel shines. She is in great shape, my hat goes off to the Captain for running and maintaining her so well. I sailed the same itinerary on Radiance OTS last year, and while it is the same class of ship and nearly identical in structure and layout, I found the Jewel to be superior in her maintenance and upkeep.
Disembarkation was quick and painless. We were in an early departure group, and off the ship by 8:10. Plenty of time to catch our 10:25 flight back to reality.